Rhodes skips graduation; Jones looking to bounce back.
NASCAR’s Sprint All-Star Race is not your typical professional sports exhibition.
Despite not counting toward season points, it’s not all fun and games. Competitors don’t act buddy-buddy or attempt flashy moves just for show.
The reason why?
Its winner takes home $1 million.
Jimmie Johnson knows the feeling of competing in, and winning, the event featuring NASCAR’s top drivers. He will attempt to add to his record four NASCAR Sprint All-Star Race wins Saturday night at Charlotte Motor Speedway (7 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1).
“It’s a very rewarding night, a night the team really enjoys,” Johnson said. “There’s a different atmosphere with the pressure being off and a million reasons to have fun after.”
The six-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion has earned his wins record through his ability to navigate the All-Star Race’s unique format.
This year, there are four 25-lap segments followed by a final 10-lap shootout. Drivers start the first segment in order of their best times in an All-Star-specific qualifying format. They will take three timed laps with one four-tire pit stop included. On the pit stop there is no pit road speeding penalty enforced. Aggregate total time will set the starting lineup for the race.
During the race, there are yellow flag periods between the four segments. Cars may enter pit road between segments 1 through 4, but will not retain their running position. The running order at the completion of the fourth segment will be repositioned based on the drivers’ average finish in the first four segments. Ties in average finish will be broken by finish in the fourth segment. Cars must enter pit road for a mandatory four-tire pit stop between segments 4 and 5, and the leader after 10 green flag laps in segment 5 takes home the $1 million.
“Without a doubt you know that you beat the best of the best. With the varying strategies that take place and the segments and how many laps and all the different things we've had over the years, there hasn't been one set path to get there,” Johnson said.
One of Johnson’s main challengers will be his Hendrick Motorsports teammate, three-time NASCAR Sprint All-Star race-winner Jeff Gordon, who would love to go out on top in what will likely be his final appearance in the event. In the three seasons Gordon has won the All-Star Race – 1995, 1997 and 2001 – he also captured the Sprint Cup championship.
“The All-Star event is just one of those races where you go all-out,” Gordon said. “With no points on the line, it's about pride and honor and just kind of showing your competitors what you can do.”
Johnson’s longtime crew chief Chad Knaus echoed Gordon’s sentiments, saying, “If the All-Star Race paid one dollar, I’d still want to win it.”
Rhodes to skip high school graduation ceremony
At this time of year, most high school seniors are looking for prom dates, reminiscing over their schoolyard days and trying to figure out whether they want to bag groceries or be a lifeguard over the summer.
Not Ben Rhodes.
The 18-year-old NASCAR Next alum is skipping his high school graduation ceremony to make his NASCAR XFINITY Series debut in the JR Motorsports No. 88 Chevrolet in Sunday’s 3M 250 at Iowa Speedway (2:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1).
Instead of receiving his diploma at Holy Cross High School (Louisville, Kentucky) on Friday night, Rhodes – owner of a 3.98 GPA - will accept it from HCHS president Tim Welhe on Iowa Speedway’s stage during Sunday’s driver introductions.
“JR Motorsports has given me an unbelievable opportunity with this car and race team,” Rhodes said. "I am surrounded with knowledge and some of the biggest names in the sport.”
Last season, Rhodes dominated the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East, amassing five wins, 11 top fives, 13 top 10s and six poles en route to the series championship. He also made four NASCAR Camping World Truck Series starts, logging one top-five and three top-10 finishes.
In preparation for his 10-event XFINITY Series schedule, Rhodes has attended many of the races, learning from members of the No. 88 team in the garage and on spotter perches.
“JR Motorsports has given me an unbelievable opportunity with this car and race team,” Rhodes said. “I am surrounded with knowledge and some of the biggest names in the sport. By going to the track with the team almost every week, I have learned a lot about the setup of these XFINITY Series cars and also how they react and change during runs. Our goal for the rest of the season is to be running near the top five each week and to hopefully be challenging for a win later in the season.”
Last month at his Kentucky Speedway test, JR Motorsports team owner Dale Earnhardt Jr. had nothing but praise for Rhodes, calling him an “exceptional young man.”
“He has a great opportunity to be successful as a driver, but also represent his partners well,” Earnhardt said. "He seems to really understand the importance of being the whole package. He's really doing a lot when it comes to being accountable at the races, standing around and trying to be a sponge for the information that's available to him while we're practicing."
Jones looks to bounce back
Erik Jones dominated a race as much as a driver can without winning in last Friday’s NASCAR Camping World Truck Series Toyota Tundra 250 at Kansas Speedway.
The 18-year-old Michigan native led a track-record 151-of-167 laps and even gained an 11-second lead at one point before running out of fuel with seven go-arounds left on the 1.5-mile track.
“We had the fastest truck by far last week at Kansas, but unfortunately in the end it came down to fuel mileage and we weren’t able to get the win,” Jones said.
Jones finished 11th and remained third in the Camping World Truck Series standings, but fell to 18 points behind race-winner Matt Crafton for the series lead.
The NASCAR Next alum – who has recently drawn an abundance of praise for his April NASCAR XFINITY Series win at Texas and impressive Sprint Cup Series debut at Kansas last weekend – makes his next NCWTS start in Friday’s NC Education Lottery 200 at Charlotte Motor Speedway (8:30 p.m. ET on FOX Sports 1).
Jones has never competed on the Queen City track, but turned laps on the 1.5-mile oval for Kyle Busch Motorsports at a rookie test earlier in the year.
“I was able to get a feel for the place and what is different about it compared to other intermediate tracks,” Jones said. “KBM has had a lot of success with Kyle at Charlotte, so hopefully we can carry some of that over this weekend and get another win.”